Did You Want Sirens with That?

Please enjoy this Charles Village Observed short essay, written by Johns Hopkins University student Irina Usach, of the Fall ’09 Introduction to Fiction and Nonfiction (IFN) cohort. — JCS

Carma’s Café is flanked by dark apartment buildings, its only identifying feature a small, maroon sign that displays the hours of operation. Sitting at the table closest to the kitchen, a young woman could hear the clanking of pots and pans and smell the beginnings of the soup special: Gazpacho.

“No, Dad, I don’t want to take a self-defense class,” she pleaded.

Her voice was playful, as though she knew her father did not actually expect her to take Kung-Fu or Jujitsu. She looked out the window. Just once, she wished, she could talk to her Dad without an emergency vehicle—sirens blazing—passing by within cell-phone-shot.

“Maybe when I move off campus…no, not next year, the year after…yea, I was saying, maybe I’ll get a dog. A big one.”

She stopped defending Johns Hopkins campus safety for a while and listened to her Dad. Her hands were hungrier than she was and kept grabbing for the straw in her peach Italian soda, hoping that it would make her Panini arrive faster from the kitchen. She eventually started pulling at her heavy sweater, trying to get it off without interrupting her Dad’s monologue. “Alright, Dad, listen, my food’s here, I have to go…love you too. Bye.”

It was clear to every snooping customer that the only reason she called home was to have someone entertain her as she waited for lunch. She ate the sandwich while balancing her chemistry textbook on her lap—the gas equations a substitute for her father’s voice.

Sitting—with her legs crossed under her body, and her sandals marking the floor where her feet should have been—she took small bites of her steak Panini, dripping oil all over the glossy page. Soon after she was done eating, she stuffed the textbook into her bag and her sweater on top of that. She put her cell phone to her earlobe, which has just began to lose its pink glow from earlier and mumbled, “Hey Mom, how’s work?”

As she opened the door of the café, an ambulance hurled itself down St. Paul Street making her strain to hear what was being said.


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